Social Anxiety Disorder

Help for overcoming social anxiety disorder symptoms

Information on Overcoming Social Anxiety Disorder Symptoms

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  1. What is Social Anxiety Disorder?
  2. Diagnosing Social Anxiety Disorder
  3. What Causes Social Anxiety Disorder?
  4. Help for Social Anxiety Disorder
  5. More Info on Social Anxiety Disorder

What is Social Anxiety Disorder?

Imagine giving a speech to a large unforgiving audience where you are feeling unprepared and anxious, with sweaty palms and butterflies in your stomach. Individuals with Social Anxiety Disorder can experience the same feelings of intense fear about a simple lunch time conversation or casual introduction.

Social Anxiety Disorder, also known as Social Phobia, can cause intense and unreasonable fear of social or performance situations. They often feel that they will be judged by others or will do something to embarrass or humiliate themselves.

The effects can be devastating as people suffering from Social Anxiety can isolate themselves, going to great lengths to avoid social situations, and endure intense feelings of anxiety and distress in those situations that they cannot avoid.

Diagnosing Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety usually begins in childhood or early adolescence, and only rarely does it begin in adulthood. Statistics show that it occurs in women twice as often as in men and that it is the most prevalent psychological disorder.

The good news is that with the correct treatment plan, Social Anxiety Disorder can be successfully managed. It is possible to re-claim a happy and socially fulfilling life without being consumed by fear and panic.

There is no laboratory test to diagnose Social Anxiety Disorder. It is usually diagnosed by a psychologist or psychiatrist who will ask you about the anxiety symptoms you experience and in what context they occur. In some cases you will be asked to fill out a questionnaire or anxiety checklist to give a clearer picture of your condition.

A thorough assessment should be done to ensure that there are no co-existing conditions or other disorders that can better explain your symptoms. You may also be referred to a medical doctor and given a physical check to ensure that there are no physical causes or triggers.

Once a diagnosis is made, be sure to ask about treatment options. Ensure that they cover your various options and, if necessary, do further research before settling on a final treatment plan.

Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety can be experienced as intense fear or distress often accompanied by physical signs of anxiety. In some cases this might bring on a panic attack. Some symptoms commonly experienced are:

  • Sadness or nervousness before a social event
  • Difficulty talking or performing tasks in public
  • Anxiety about eating in front of other people
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Blushing
  • Excessive sweating
  • Trembling
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle tension
  • Palpitations

All of us have experienced some level of nervousness at the prospect of a social situation. Perhaps you’ve felt somewhat anxious before a speech or on a first date? Maybe you’ve been to a party where you felt shy and awkward at first but soon warmed up to people and had a good time.

Social Anxiety Disorder is more than being shy or unsociable. People with Social Anxiety Disorder want to participate and feel comfortable in social situations, but they are so overwhelmed by feelings of anxiety, often with an unrealistic perception that they are socially inept, that they cannot participate. If you can relate to these symptoms it is advisable to seek help.

Too many people with Social Anxiety Disorder don’t seek treatment and are never able to live up to their full potential and reach their dreams. Don’t suffer in solitude - help is available!

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What Causes Social Anxiety Disorder?

The cause of social anxiety is not adequately explained by one single theory. The following are a few possible explanations:

Genetics

  • Certain theorists believe that we are genetically prepared to fear angry, critical or rejecting people as a self-defense mechanism. Some people are genetically more sensitive to this predisposition than others.
  • The tendency to be anxious seems to run in families.

Brain Structure and Chemistry

  • Certain people may be more sensitive to the effects of fear producing neurotransmitters in the brain.
  • Differences in brain structure and functioning have been implicated in the cause of Social Anxiety, particularly in the area of the brain called the Amygdala which is specifically involved in our response to fear.

Psychological Factors

  • Infants born with shy or inhibited personalities are more at risk than outgoing babies.
  • A traumatic social experience could teach the individual that social or performance situations are something to be feared.
  • Children with overly critical parents could be at risk for developing Social Anxiety
  • This behavior could also be learnt from other family members.

Help for Social Anxiety Disorder

Social Anxiety is usually treated with some form of psychotherapy and/or prescription medication. 

As with other psychological ailments, a holistic approach has proven beneficial in treating Social Anxiety, while also incorporating mainstream and complementary treatments along with balanced diet and exercise.

Treatment Options for Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety can be experienced as intense fear or distress often accompanied by physical signs of anxiety. In some cases this might bring on a panic attack. Some symptoms commonly experienced are:

  • Sadness or nervousness before a social event
  • Difficulty talking or performing tasks in public
  • Anxiety about eating in front of other people
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Blushing
  • Excessive sweating
  • Trembling
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle tension
  • Palpitations

All of us have experienced some level of nervousness at the prospect of a social situation. Perhaps you’ve felt somewhat anxious before a speech or on a first date? Maybe you’ve been to a party where you felt shy and awkward at first but soon warmed up to people and had a good time.

Social Anxiety Disorder is more than being shy or unsociable. People with Social Anxiety Disorder want to participate and feel comfortable in social situations, but they are so overwhelmed by feelings of anxiety, often with an unrealistic perception that they are socially inept, that they cannot participate. If you can relate to these symptoms it is advisable to seek help.

Too many people with Social Anxiety Disorder don’t seek treatment and are never able to live up to their full potential and reach their dreams. Don’t suffer in solitude - help is available!

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

CBT has shown promising long term benefits in conquering Social Anxiety Disorder. This type of therapy aims at uncovering and changing the unconscious perceptions of danger associated with social situations. It also includes a gradual exposure to the feared situation until the individual no longer fears it. A fairly recent approach is Cognitive Behavioral Group Therapy (CBGT) in which patients role-play and rehearse feared social situations with one another.

Progressive Relaxation and Coping Techniques

A psychologist experienced in this field of therapy can teach you how to control and understand your symptoms using various techniques. This can be combined with other forms of therapy such as CBT and has great potential to help you feel more in control of the situation – and therefore less anxious.

Drug therapy

A number of drugs can be prescribed to help with the symptoms of social anxiety disorder. These include anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medications and beta-blockers.
There are three main drug treatments available:

  • Anti-anxiety drugs - Benzodiazepines such as alprazolam (Xanax), chlordiazepoxide (Librium), clonazepam (Klonopin) and diazepam (Valium) create a sedative affect to reduce anxiety.
  • Anti-depressant drugs – which include fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), imipramine (Tofranil), and escitalopram (Lexapro) adjust the neurotransmitter levels in your brain to try and relieve anxiety.
  • Beta-blockers – such as propranolol are used to stop the effects of adrenaline (such as palpitations, sweating) – a key chemical in anxiety.

It is strongly advised that you thoroughly research any prescription medication and its side-effects before agreeing to drug therapy. Benzodiazepines, in particular, are very addictive and should be taken with caution.

Should you feel that drug treatment is necessary for you, remember that it should be done along with psychotherapy for best results, so that you do not have to depend on the drugs in the long term.

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More Information on Social Anxiety Disorder

Other Disorders Related to Social Anxiety Disorder

There are a range of other problems which may be associated with Social Anxiety Disorder. Some of the following may co-exist with a diagnosis of Social Anxiety Disorder:

  • Depression
  • Bi-polar
  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Panic disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Low self-esteem
  • Substance abuse – often used as an attempt to cope with the anxiety.
  • Avoidant personality disorder

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Tips for Coping with Social Anxiety Disorder

When you have decided on your treatment plan, it is important to stick with it and persevere, even if the process may seem difficult at first and your progress slow. Recovery does not happen over-night - so take small steps and be patient with yourself! Try to include some of the following coping tips in your daily life:

  • Don’t use alcohol or illicit drugs to help get you through a social situation. It is a temporary means of coping that has long lasting and destructive consequences. Regular use of alcohol can even worsen the symptoms of anxiety in the long run.
  • Practice relaxation and deep-breathing exercises when you are alone. Once you are comfortable with these techniques you can start using them in situations when you start to feel anxious.
  • Avoid stimulants like alcohol, drugs, caffeine and foods high in sugar as these all increase the likelihood of anxiety and panic attacks.
  • Exercise regularly as this helps burn up stress-related chemicals such as adrenaline while releasing happiness-inducing endorphins.
  • Create small obtainable goals, such as making eye contact during a conversation, initiating a greeting, or complimenting someone. Start small and reward yourself as you achieve these goals.
  • Live a healthy life-style that includes a balanced diet, enough sleep and relaxation time, as well as exercise. Low blood sugar levels and even sleep deprivation can both worsen anxiety symptoms.
  • Get support from others. Share your thoughts and concerns with family, close friends or a support group. Even though joining a support group may sound daunting, it will offer you the opportunity to meet people who know and understand what you are going through.

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